Praying in Random Places

I have written elsewhere in this blog that writing poetry, especially when I was writing a poem a day for 365 consecutive days from September 2018 until September 2019, is a spiritual practice. So it seems appropriate to write about prayer in the Sunday Weekly poem. As Samuel Becket said:

Samuel Beckett meme
Sam Beckett looking all prayerful

Samuel Beckett spent a portion of his youth at the Royal Portora School in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, which is not a million miles away from where we live. We live in this edgy part of Ireland where Cavan meets Fermanagh meets Leitrim. Last Sunday found us doing some life laundry (and literal laundry, too) in the nearby town of Manorhamilton, about sixteen miles from us. (NB: we live an average of twenty miles from anywhere in three directions that is a recognisable centre of population, with a number of commercial outlets and services.)

So this is what I do when I have a spare hour and a half when I can multi-task with a domestic task.

In the Mace in Manorhamilton I Sit Down And
 
It strikes me that, sitting
at a laminate table, on a banquette,
drinking my coffee, and imitation
pain au chocolat, that
 
this is a good place to pray
while my laundry cycles,
getting all sweet-smelling and
washed. It’s all auto here,
 
not just the petrol pumps, but
what dispenses coffee,
the washing machines, the drier,
the factory’s template exact
 
cut of tabletop after tabletop,
like an assembly line cookie cutter
(they sell good cookies here, too)
where I sit eating my machined pastry.
 
This is a good place to pray.
Where everyone is just doing their best,
Bless them!
Wiping tables, swabbing the deli counter,
 
totting at the till, making change,
nodding, and being pleasant.
But then, this is Leitrim after all,
and people tend to be.
 
So this is a good place to pray,
because praying is not automatic,
with the distant hum of the radio chat
behind the rumble of the chill cabinet.
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Noodling

It’s been quite the week. And I might have taken the Wolf Moon eclipse as my Sunday Weekly poem’s subject matter. But then we had an eclipse at Wolf Moon 2019 and I wrote one then. And I did write a draft of 2020 version, but I figured we might need to mix things up a bit this week.

Or nature might have been my muse. We have had some spectacular skies here this week as a parenthesis to the full moon’s eclipse.

sunrise
sunset

But nah! When you have houseguests you tend to think a lot about menus. So food has been my muse. Also, there is a lot of music being played in the house.

 Noodle
  
 I want to stretch that infinite string
 of dried dough that has become 
 an elastic grace note pulled
  
 from the magic pot of water 
 at a rolling boil that’s be-bop
 and it soars round in its steam
  
 and you can keep it plain or do it
 fried, or meaty, or saucy or so
 spicy it feels kind of naughty,
  
 its cayenne kick that turns 
 to a croon till that bit of old dough
 is swooning onto your plate and it all
  
 started with a migrate out of the east
 on a camel’s back west, travelling
 the old Silk Road route and all along
  
 the people named it their way –
 gnudel or nouille or the even faster
 pasta.  Noodles are the original jazz.
  
 Each place would sing its song
 on a plate no matter what its name,
 served up the sauce wherever it came.
  
 We kind of like this noodling
 with flour, water and the odd spare egg.
 It’s poor people’s princely fare
  
 that can sing a mean hymn of praise
 and swoop into some melancholy longing
 for your baby who just stayed
  
 and never followed your string, 
 just sucked it all up with your silky voice.
 It’s all jazz and the world is just
  
 a pea served with your noodles.
 And all of us are just following
 that elastic note on its last string.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

The Day the World Ends

I have been on a bit of a digital break over the holidays, but here we are with the first Sunday Weekly poem of a new year and a new decade. I fully intended to do a 2019 reflection on 30th December, but as it happens I became fully engaged in baking for an alcohol-free New Year’s gathering with friends instead. The days slipped by and then Sunday morning rolled around and I needed to write the weekly poem. This is not to say that I did not write over that week, because I did, but that is material that has been submitted to an anthology of women’s writing with the working title Bloody Amazing!

No sooner than the New Year’s decorations were taken down, I looked onto social media and I find words like Armageddon and apocolypse being bandied about. Immediately, (I am not lying) Archbald MacLeish’s sonnet The End of the World came to mind. Macleish lived through World War I, served with the precursor of the CIA in World War II, saw the Cold War and atomic bomb threat, and wound up his days in the Library of Congress. According to the text book anthology I used in college, The End of the World was published in 1926.

While perusing some the the decade reflections in print media I noticed that 2016 is considered the worst year in the 2010-2019 decade. Yet, it was the happiest for me as I married my long-time love that year. (Though at the time some friends did say it was the anticipated happy moment that was keeping them going and reason to get out of bed in the morning.) Anne Lamott echoes this observation in a book I got for Christmas, Almost Everything. (Canongate, 2019). This quotation in the Prelude inspired today’s Sunday Weekly poem. As did Dickens in Tale of Two Cities when he observes that it was both the best and worst of times.

Love is why we have hope.

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

 
 The Day the World Ends
 
 Love is what opens eyes to a new day
 even by lunchtime you will metaphorically and
 literally be standing in a pile of poop and
 are cursing the thoughtless owner
 of some beloved dog who eyes that human
 with unconditional regard.
  
 Who is pawing and cajoling the beloved
 to just get up one more day. Even if 
 it may be the End of the World today.
 Have you seen that internet meme
 of the rescued kangaroo hugging and clinging
 to its human saviour? Love, it seems,
  
 will always be there in the fray.
 Remember that couple leaping from 
 the inferno tower, hand in hand, on 9/11?
 Or all those last phone messages left , every one
 saying I love you and Hug the kids.
  
 Hold each other on days when you are not
 beloved. When the one you loved is lost forever,
 has turned its back or gone on without you.
 On that bleakest of death knell days,
 go! Reach past the fire and flood threatening
 to engulf and obliterate, because
  
 even on the day that is the day that is
 the End of the World, you will open your eyes,
 stretch your hands and  arms and arise
 the miracle of yourself who loves and
 can be loved in return and today may be that day.
  
 And that shall never be obliterated by
 false moves, mistakes, flood or wildfire burn.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

Last Sunday Poem of a Decade

It is the final Sunday of 2019, not just the final Sunday weekly poem of the year, but also the final poem of a decade that marked my most solid commitment to improving the art and craft of poetry writing. I woke up early because I am especially excited to be going to see the new cinematic version of Little Women today, with some of my favourite women friends. And also, it feels appropriate to close off the year with a homage to two of the most formative women writers. Because I encountered them in childhood, I learned that writing was a fit occupation for women. I also grew up in a household with an elder sister who was a writer, so even though there was a dearth of women poets in anthologies or studied at school, I had these 19th century role models.

I first read Little Women in an abridged form when I was around eight or nine as I recovered from one of those childhood illnesses that kept you in quarantine for a fortnight. I became a rabid Alcott fan and over the years acquired Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom. I found An Old Fashioned Girl at a library book sale. A Garland for Girls and Cornelia Meig’s Alcott biography, Invincible Louisa appeared under the Christmas tree. By the time I was twelve I could have had an MA in Alcott. I had all but her Gothic early fiction, which was still out of print in the 1970s. In my early teens I was a devout transcendentalist and had moved on to Thoreau and Hawthorn’s Blithedale Romance. One summer vacation my brother, mother and I had a little pilgrimage to Orchard House where I bought the pamphlet Transcendental Wild Oats. I drew a little water from Walden Pond as I would from a holy well. Alcott made me.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Louisa May Alcott, literary shero

Emily Dickinson was my literary sister from another mother. I discovered a biography of her in the public library when I was about eleven years old and began to read her poetry and write cryptic ones in her style as a tween. Very fitting that my brother in Brooklyn should include some Emily Dickinson Divination cards in my Christmas box this year (many thanks, Steve!) . I have been drawing one daily, along with a Susan Seddon-Boulet Animal Spirit card for clarification.

Omen Days
The Omen Days – Day 4 draw

I will be doing this daily during this Christmas season that is ‘time out of time.’ From St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day) on 26th until Women’s Little Christmas (or Epiphany) on 6th January, it was custom to scan nature for omens of the year to come. But these literary divination cards were just begging to be used for the Omen Days. There are twelve months in the calendar year and twelve days of Christmas. Hence, looking for signs and portents of the year to come during these days that were considered, and still are, a gateway time of endings and beginnings. There is more about them in this post from last year. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/

But now to the final Sunday Weekly poem of 2019. I played around with a five line format a lot in July this year that takes a quotation as its first line. To find out more about the form, check out this post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/07/06/all-poets-can-do/.

In this case I have used Dickinson’s own words for the first and final lines.

This Being Mortal

Mortality is fatal.

Grief becomes our work in progress,

constantly hunting for what’s been lost –

The love that so eludes us,

The Soul there – all the time.

Top and tail lines by Emily Dickinson

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I will do a quick New Year post mid-week. Then it will be back to the Sunday Weekly poem schedule.

Christmas Morning

Over much of the 365 consecutive days of writing a poem a day writing I did between September 2018 and 2019, I was awake during the early hours of darkness, alert before dawn. While I have happily back slided into more slothful habits since then, this week in the run up to Christmas has seen me waking in the dark again. This morning I had to itch to write a poem , which I have been rationing to once a week while I have tended to other projects. But this morning, with the cat who three years ago was an uncivilised feral purring at my side, I reverted to how I welcomed Christmas this time last year. Little did we know then that he was destined to become my muse. He was then an outcast, who has now come in from the cold.A little poem is my Christmas present to my readers. I am grateful to all who have faithfully commented, liked on Facebook, and kept me on task.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Christmas Morning 
  
 The sky is a greyish white as the first of day's feeble light 
 illuminates the charcoal outline of bare limbs 
 on winter's trees. Today, we sing out hymns 
 to the evergreen, and of a star bright enough 
 to pierce a world whose soul is toughened up
 and feels plunged into deep, darkest night, 
  
 that cries out to be rescued and saved from ourselves 
 who for centuries have long so misbehaved 
 to our discredit. We have pained one another, 
 lost the thread of our kind and our love. In vain
 we refrain All is well! All will be well! 
 There speaks faith and hope. That's what we tell
 ourselves is the gospel of love. We wave away 
  
 for just this one day the state of our dismay 
 with gods and worldly fates. And with our hate. 
 Let there be love in hearts and hands. 
 Let the outcast come in and the stooped stand. 
 The crooked is straightened like that angel 
 perched up over the nativity's manger. 
 For one day let us all know this pause and poise.
 Let there be peace on earth and in every voice. 
  
 We dream of this miracle but once a year
  in the darkest nights, so hope may give us cheer. 
  
 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved 
   

Featured image Photo by Imran Ali on Unsplash

The Shortest Day

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the shortest day, winter solstice, will arrive around 2am this Sunday, the final Sunday of Advent. Moreover, the moon is in its balsamic, or darkest phase. On Christmas Day (or the early hours of the 26th where I live that we call Stephen’s Day) the moon will be reborn. In fact, there will be a lunar eclipse. So we arrive this midwinter with a dark night sky and a daytime light that is scanty, especially if there is any cloud. The Sunday Weekly poem takes some of its tune from our natural world this winter solstice.

While there is lots of merriment abounding at this time of year, there is also a sense of melancholy. I think of holiday films like The Holly and the Ivy or,one of my all-time favourites, It’s a Wonderful Life. (It wasn’t an immediate box office hit. Hollywood thought it was a bit of a bummer for a holiday film. But it’s tale of suicide prevented turned out to be a slow-burn classic. ) Families come together and it can be stressful as unhealed issues resurface. The dark days of this season can trigger depression in some people. So some of the seasonal cheerfulness can feel both a bit forced and enforced as well. For those who have loved ones who have passed away at this time of year, that anniversary cannot but help colour the collective festivities. I had a college friend whose father had fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, which was marked by an especially bloody Christmas Day; he could never be cheery on that anniversary.

 

The Shortest Day

There are absences. There are the closed doors

that make surreal all this talk of salvation lore.

But, resolute, we face the openings in store,

even if we cannot quite be merry or

sing a halleluiah chorale. Our more frivolous

wishes might have resurrected that once

 

innocent wonder in lights and sparkling colour,

the delights in delicious smells – eggnog’s liqueur,

the shiver of nutmeg on the lip of its stirrup cup,

evergreen’s resin, ginger, cinnamon. Sip its over-sweet up

as the electric fairy light strandis slipped over

and wound around the live tree’s indoor bower.

 

It’s a day dawning late after a no moon night.

It’s a day that rapidly resigns its pale light.

May it be a portal to our safer future, bright

and warm as the Yule log’s blaze. We dig down deep

into the Santa stocking’s far toe, the gift it keeps –

chocolate as dark as midwinter’s day and just as semi-sweet.

 

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights

Featured image Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Advent Joy Sunday

Next Sunday is Winter Solstice and the fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme for the third Sunday, when you light the single pink candle, is joy. Yet I am aware of many souls who are feeling less than joyful just now. There are those on the edge of tears for reasons they cannot even fathom. There are the harried and harassed. There are the children imprisoned whom Santa Claus will forget.

The first Advent candle is for hope. The second candle is for love. These are two of the three principle virtues. (And isn’t it interesting that faith doesn’t get a look in?) Then comes joy and peace. The final, central, candle is lit on Christmas Eve. It made me ponder and it seems that joy is almost a sacred duty. It is an especial reminder at the darkest time of year that joy must always be found. It paves the way for peace.

Take joy in simple things. Sunrises and sunsets. A cat’s purring. The words on a page that comfort or lift and convey you into a new day or new life. Give presents. Be present. Feed loved ones. Make art.

We are not enjoined to be happy. We are enjoined to find joy even in the darkest of places and times. To do that takes courage.

Our Lives Are Speaking

Our lives are always speaking,
so much so, that every atom of me,
my story, becomes part of you,
your story. Speak to me.

You live, a husband and wife,
in a place where courage
smells of stew and hand-made bread,
where the local water tastes
of iron from the hills all around.
They echo with thunder rolls
and then the rain comes pattering down
like a heart’s steady beat.
The kiss hello is the same
as the one for farewell.   And few
will ever be able to tell

the differance between my life
and yours, how they belong
to each other and speak
of our small joys and great peace.

 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved